The Hackney popper has unwisely left behind her more oddball leanings.
Garry Mulholland 2011-05-09
Hackney lass Anita Blay, aka thecocknbullkid, emerged in 2008 as an exciting new street-tough electro-popper with a sense of humour. The excellent self-released and Metronomy-produced On My Own single got her a spot on Later with Jools Holland before she’d bagged a record deal. Onstage she was an engagingly feisty and funny art-pop performer with a tinge of M.I.A. attitude and Grace Jones style. But, as the press release accompanying her debut rightly points out, there’s been a lot of that about over the last decade, and it rarely makes sense to anyone outside of music journos, fashionistas and The Mighty Boosh-like denizens of Hoxton and Shoreditch. Cue a two-year disappearance and the kind of re-think which often occurs once major labels get involved.
Ms Blay now returns with a bevy of name co-writers, Marina & The Diamonds producer Liam Howe, and a set of sweet, eager-to-please songs. Oh, and a dropping of the "The" from her name. Let’s not forget that crucial bit of rebranding.
Adulthood is not an unpleasant listen. Howe is a producer who knows how to make radio ear candy without veering into blandness, and Peter Morén (Peter, Bjorn and John), Joseph Mount (Metronomy) and Shaznay Lewis (All Saints) do Blay proud in the cute melody department, especially on the rousing CocknBullKid and Yellow. But these are solid-yet-unspectacular pop tunes rather than uplifting anthems, and an artist who began as a slinkier Lady Sovereign now sounds like Girls Aloud after a bout of minor depression.
The role model for confessional lyrics set to great girl-pop production is Lily Allen, of course; but Ms Allen has a gift for making the personal sound universal and slyly political. Blay was always a melodic singer rather than a rapper or ranter, but the croon has become breathy and needy, and the former stroppy girl just comes over as moaning and self-obsessed on the likes of Hoarder, Asthma Attack and the title-track, while missed hit Hold on to Your Misery is as dispiriting as its title.
Maybe Adulthood’s blatant tilt at the pop mainstream will work. But it feels as if Blay has had to surgically remove all the most interesting bits of her character and art in order to conform. When quirky girls dominate the pop firmament like never before, it seems like an odd move to make oneself into Norma Normal with a side order of self-pity.